You've probably heard that the real work of deer hunting doesn't begin until your buck is down. In fact, dragging a whitetail deer out of the woods can be the start of real health problems, too: Sore muscles, a strained back, or even serious heart trouble can leave you as stiff as your buck.
With good planning, however, getting your deer out can be relatively pain-free. The first thing to do is carefully map out the easiest way back to your vehicle or camp. Remember, this is rarely the straightest path. Use the terrain and available trails to your advantage. It's also a good idea to lighten your load by carrying some of your gear to the truck-or simply ahead on your route-and then come back for your deer. And take your time. In the excitement of the moment, it's easy to rush the job, making it more difficult than it needs to be.
If you expect the drag to be difficult, don't hesitate to mark the deer's location and go for help. When I was first invited to deer camp in northern Maine, it was with the understanding that I would help its senior members get their deer out. Thirty years later, I have a renewed appreciation for the wisdom of my mentors.
Whether or not you get assistance from a fellow hunter or a friend, a well-designed commercial deer drag can help. Glenn's Deer Handle, for example, is simply a 9-inch rubber-coated handle attached to a loop of braided nylon. Wrap the loop around the base of a buck's antlers, pass the handle through the open end, and pull. Or there's Pete Rickard's Deluxe Deer Drag, which uses an adjustable shoulder harness of 2-inch webbing, leaving your hands free to carry a gun or bow.
Pete Rickard's Deluxe Deer Drag $10; 800-282-5663; peterickard.com: Glenn's Deer Handle $15; 662-893-1001; deerhandle.com
Less compact but far more helpful are sleds. A friend and I hunt a remote mountain plateau an hour's hike from the nearest road, and over the years we've stashed a half dozen sleds at strategic locations. Inexpensive and impervious to the weather, these simple items have proved worth their weight in gold when one of us has downed an old ridge runner late in the day.
Both the Dead Sled and Cabela's Deer Sleigh'r are constructed of smooth, durable plastic that rolls up into a packable, lightweight scroll. When unrolled and loaded down with a deer, they make bare ground feel as slick as snow and snow as slick as ice.
Dead Sled $30; 866-207-5993; deadsled.com: Not shown: Cabela's Deer Sleigh'r $23; 800-237-4444; cabelas.com
Wheeled game carts that feature a single axle and an aluminum frame are the heaviest and most expensive haulers, but on relatively level ground they provide the easiest going. Large ones like Bass Pro Shop's RedHead Magnum Big Game Cart make quick work of the biggest deer and do double duty around camp hauling firewood and other provisions. Backcountry hunters will want to check out MPI Outdoors' Ultimate Deer Drag and Ameristep's Non-Typical Deer Cart. Each folds up into a comparatively small and lightweight package that you can carry on your back into a wilderness base camp. With any luck, though, it will be heavily weighed down at hunt's end, and you'll be wheeling it out.
Ameristep's Non-Typical Deer Cart $150; 810-686-4035; ameristep.com: Not shown: Bass Pro Shop's RedHead Magnum Big Game Cart $120; 800-227-7776; basspro.com: MPI Outdoors' Ultimate Deer Drag $100; 800-343-5827; mpioutdoors.com